Agents are Human Too

Talking to agents can be intimidating. I still sometimes get intimidated talking to agents, and I work for one. But, they are still human.

In my experience, whenever I start to feel too cocky, I do something really stupid and unprofessional. Today I accidentally sent somebody an email saying their manuscript was not a good fir for us. Yep. Not a good fir.

And I’ve seen similar mistakes from industry professionals who rank higher than lowly intern. We’re all human here.

Just keep that in mind.

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Query Critique 38

Coby married a man who ought to be dead—and he’s starting to regret saying ‘I do.’ This is a good hook. It did sort of set up expectations for something speculative fiction, but that may just be my reader’s bias because I gravitate towards spec fic.

The night Coby pulled Jimmy, half-dead at seventeen, out of a seedy back-alley, everyone told him not to get attached. They said Jimmy was going to break his heart. But he told them he could handle Jimmy. After all, fate brought them together when Jimmy needed a friend the most. And for the last ten years, despite all of the hell Jimmy’s gone through, Coby’s never given up. My one complaint with this is that I feel like it uses Jimmy’s name a lot. Obviously you have to avoid pronoun confusion. But it’s like when you say a word a bunch of times and it loses meaning. Or maybe that’s just me.

Coby made a promise to Jimmy when they got married: he’d stand by him, give him a family, and never leave him.  But when Jimmy has an atomic meltdown at work, gets admitted to the psych ward, and loses his job, Coby, the man who swore he had no breaking point, breaks.

When Jimmy is released from psych, a vicious cycle begins: Jimmy refuses to stay on his meds and starts falling back into drugs.  Coby isn’t sure anymore if his obligation is strong enough to make things work.  But with Jimmy off his meds and back-peddling into addiction, Coby is about to admit that everyone was right.

RESCUE ME is LGBT, dual POV, Commercial Fiction, complete at 82,000 words with series potential. I don’t know that you really need to specify commercial fiction or LGBT (though you can). I’d maybe say adult contemporary instead. As far as the dual POV, there’s nothing in the synopsis to suggest that it’s told from the POV of anyone besides Coby because the query essentially tells everything from Coby’s point of view. My short story ‘Anguish’ was published in Winter’s Regret by Elephant Bookshelf Press in 2014.  Thank you for your time and consideration.

Breaking Point

Query Critique 37

Dear Thoughts,

Chasing that creep was a terrible idea. This hook is a little vague for my taste. Mostly because you say “that creep” I don’t know who that creep is or why I should care about him, so the hook loses effectiveness. And following him into the sewers? Even worse. But seventeen-year-old Jennifer Pilgrim refused to let him steal her chess piece necklace, a gift from her deceased mother.

Then, mid-pursuit, the ground disappears under Jenny’s feet.

A terrifying tumble ends in an urbanized Wonderland—now coined Underland by its inhabitants. Talking animals, height-altering tarts, and the outlaw of the color blue. Just so you know, I chose blue font for this before reading this sentence.  Nothing makes sense and showing up with blue eyes and a blue dress? Jenny is in constant danger.

Desperate to escape the topsy-turvy world, Jenny turns to Cornelius Hatter, finder extraordinaire. What does that mean, he’s a finder? He reveals that the thief was actually a White Rabbit, the Red Queen’s bounty hunter. Terrified the Alice-look-alike will somehow retrieve the necklace, the Queen unleashes her guard to capture Jenny. Or more specifically, her head.

No way is that happening. Jenny formulates a plan: get her mom’s necklace and get home. That seems more like a goal than a plan.

Except Jenny’s strategy pushes her deeper into Underland. With their memories taken by the Red Queen, Underland’s inhabitants teeter between revolution and submission. Through the Oyster Rebellion’s intel, Jenny discovers that her necklace originally belonged to Alice.  The Oyster Rebellion seems like it’s just thrown in there, but I don’t really know what it is. And holds the key to returning everyone’s memories.

Jenny finds herself torn between a world—and a man—she has come to care for and the family and home she has always known. I’d consider putting this in parentheses. You’ve already used the em-dash in the letter. Also, the man seems sort of abrupt, because he hasn’t really been mentioned previously in the query.
Complete at 80,000 words, UNDERLAND is a YA steampunk/urban twist on Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. I’d like to see some comparative YA titles.  Thank you for your time and consideration.
Sincerely,

The Underlandiful


This query feels a little long to me. And I sort of like the three paragraph format. Just things to think about. 

Q&A How do I pitch my book as part of a series?

First, this is one of those highly subjective things where everyone has a different opinion. So any answers I give here are far from universal. On the whole, I’d say I’m fine with debut authors pitching a series. I know plenty of debut authors who have successfully published series.

A cautionary note, though. When querying, focus only on the book you currently pitching (which I assume would be the first book in the series). I’ve seen authors write query letters where they give the synopsis for the book they’re pitching and then devote an entire paragraph (sometimes more!) to talking about the plot for the sequel. I don’t want that!

You barely have enough room in a decent length query to develop one synopsis. Forget about two. Furthermore, I don’t care about a sequel unless I like the first book. So let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

This isn’t to say you shouldn’t let the agent know that your work is the beginning of a series. But you need only mention it. You can say something along the lines of “KYRA’S AWESOME MANUSCRIPT is a romantic horror and is the first of a planned series of five books.” That’s it. That’s all you need.

I’ll say one final thing in regards to approaching agents who are hesitant about debut authors with series. If you can, pitch your book as “standalone with series potential.” This is a golden phrase, because it says “if this book does well, we can publish more and make even more money. But if it doesn’t we aren’t stuck publishing it.” (I’m sure your book will do well and we’d be happy to publish more, but those pesky people in finance like their contingency plans).

Naturally, you shouldn’t use this phrase if it doesn’t work. You’ll have to ask yourself how cliff-hangery your ending is. Had Harry Potter not become a mega hit, we probably would have been content with leaving the first book where it ends. It can standalone because it ties up the main conflict of the book. Conversely, The Fellowship of the Ring could not standalone because all sorts of bad things are going down when it ends. If that were the only book, we’d all be like, “Geeze, Mr. Tolkien. What gives?”

At any rate, yes, you can ptich a series. But you only need a little mention that it’s a series because you want to focus on the book you’re actually pitching.

100 Subscriber Giveaway!

This blog recently hit 100 subscribers, which I am really excited about. So as a big thank-you, I’m doing a giveaway. We’re doing a Rafflecopter drawing instead of a Twitter contest, mostly because it’s a lot less time consuming for me. And because there have been like fifty million Twitter pitch contests in the last month or so.

Up for grabs is:

  • One 10 page critique
  • One 5 page critique
  • One paper back copy of Tyler Whiteside’s Janitors. (US only)

Whoever wins first place will get to choose their prize, and the second and third place winners will get to choose from whatever prizes remain. Both critiques include query critique, if I haven’t already critiqued your query. Or if you want me to look at an updated version.

Follow the link below to the raffle. And may the odds be ever in your favor!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

(The other options for people to follow on Twitter include all the lovely people who have let me guest write or vlog for them this past year)

janitors

Query Critique 36

Dear Kyra,

Starblood runs through Julana’s veins. This would be a better hook if I knew what starblood was.She’s managed to keep it a secret from everyone, except her guardians. If she doesn’t use its magic for their crimes, they steal her blood and use it anyway. Can you find a way to work this into the hook? Stealing blood is something that is immediately interesting, ergo, good hook. When Julana’s magic is exposed, she vows to use it one last time — to escape. Exposed to who? But escape sends her across the barrier to the Vendaran nation, a broken kingdom full of half-human, half-stars, more brutal magic, and her family’s dark secrets.

It’s no surprise the fabled nation exists, along with others like herself. For some reason the way this is worded made me think you were referring to Julana as a nation… But it’s harder for Julana to swallow that she’s heiress to its throne. She wants the love of her newly discovered family, not the responsibility of a nation. How did she discover these people are her family. Especially one that’s ruled by magic, and Nessa, the self-declared queen. Unlike Julana, Nessa has no qualms about using magic. She collects power by communing with dark spirits and uses it to control the people. And somewhere in her fortress she hides Julana’s mother, the rightful queen. Julana might not want the throne, but she wants her mother.

Julana fights the magic growing within her, and tempers the internal struggle by using it solely to heal. But Nessa has bottled some of Julana’s blood and can use it to enslave Julana alongside her mother. It will take more than healing spells to subvert Nessa. Where are healing spells coming from? Have they been mentioned before? Julana must choose to embrace the magic she despises or lose the mother she always wanted along with a nation desperate for freedom. The biggest thing this query suffers from is lack of world building. This is one of the hardest parts about writing fantasy pitches, because you can’t info dump. Still, we need a better idea of what the world is like and especially how the magic system works. The idea of blood being central to magic is unique, too. So you should play that up.

MAGIC DESPISED is a YA fantasy at 83,000 words with series potential. Any comparative titles? Below are the first five pages. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

Red Magic

Q&A: Personalizing Queries

Kyra,

I’m getting ready to send out another batch of queries and I was wondering about personalizing them. You know, you go through the blogs, interviews, twitter and MSWL, and most agents like the personalized flair. But at the end of the day, I just don’t know what to put. I’m not being refereed to by anyone, and with the exception of a few agents, I can’t compare my style/genre to other writers they represent. Other than that what else can I put? The “we would be a good fit” bit would is generic. I’m conflicted. I want to stand out, but I don’t want to be gimmicky.

Any advice?


For me, personalizing is sort of hit or miss. Sometimes it works really well, but most of the time I’m not particularly impressed by it. I get so many queries saying, “I read X book that you represent, and think that you would like my book because it’s similar.” So that doesn’t stand out very much to me. It’s not bad, per se. Just not very eye catching.

I do think that comparisons that go beyond style/genre are more effective. In particular, I think character comparisons are useful. For instance, somebody may say “Book X that you represent has a sassy female protagonist. My book also has a sassy female protagonist.” I mean, phrase it a little more elegantly, but something like that would get me thinking, “Yeah, I do like sassy female protagonists. That’s cool that they know that about me.” It’s more specific and more grabbing.

Another thought: if you have been stalking all their social media, use that to their advantage. If you’re pitching them, my assumption is that they said something that makes you think that they may like your book. It’s fine to say something like, “On your blog you mentioned that you wanted this thing, and my book has that thing.” In fact, it’s actually fairly impressive, and it shows you did your research.

For example, I was at a conference where an agent said he would like something that was “Romance plus something else.” This is great for me, since I’ve been pitching my manuscript as “Pride and Prejudice. But with more murder.” And when I get around to querying him, I’m definitely going to mention that. If your book matches up with something from their MSWL, do a major happy dance. It’s called a wish list for a reason. I’d love to get something from my wish list hand-wrapped and tied with a bow.

Also, just remember to think of personalization as the cherry on top. Nice, but not necessary. I’ve requested many manuscripts that didn’t attempt to address the specific tastes of the agent I work for. 

Hope that helps!